William Gibson 1948–-
(Full name William Ford Gibson) American-born Canadian novelist, short story writer, and scriptwriter.
Gibson is a leading practitioner of cyberpunk, a futuristic subgenre of science fiction that combines the tough atmosphere and scatological language of hardboiled crime fiction, imagery from the punk counterculture movement, and technical developments of the 1980s. Like the new wave science fiction writers of the 1960s, who introduced such topics as sex and drugs to a traditionally conservative genre, Gibson updates conventional science fiction concerns to reflect contemporary trends. His short fiction has been published in several periodicals and collected in Burning Chrome (1986).
Gibson was born on March 17, 1948, in Conway, South Carolina. He grew up in a small town in Virginia and developed a strong interest in science fiction from an early age. Gibson was heavily influenced by the noirish, subversive work of such authors as William Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, Thomas Pynchon, and J. G. Ballard. He dropped out of high school and moved to Toronto, Canada, in 1967. A few years later he moved to Vancouver and enrolled in the University of British Columbia. After receiving his B.A. in 1977, he began to write science fiction stories and had some of his early work published in Omni magazine. In 1984 he published his first novel, Neuromancer, which attracted much critical attention. In fact, the book was the first novel to win all three major science fiction awards: the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick awards. Since that initial success, Gibson has issued numerous novels, a short fiction collection, and has written several scripts for film and television.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Gibson's reputation as a short fiction writer rests on his 1986 collection, Burning Chrome, a volume of his early short stories that also include pieces written in collaboration with fellow cyberpunks Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, and Michael Swanwick. Several of these stories have been widely anthologized in science fiction magazines. Stylistically, Gibson's work is characterized by frenetic pacing; Gibson also utilizes features such as flashbacks, vivid imagery, juxtapositions, and metaphors. Central to Gibson's stories are his grim vision of the future, misfit characters, the role of memory as well as the artist in society, and a reliance on dense layers of technological information and slang. For instance, in the story “Johnny Mnemonic” (1981), the title character hides a stolen microchip in his brain. He is pursued by a Japanese crime syndicate, intent on killing him and recovering the chip, and later saved by Molly Millions, a bionic hit woman with razor blades under her fingernails. The story was made into a movie in 1995. “The Winter Market” focuses on the relationship between Casey, an engineer, and Lise. Dying, Lise has her personality encoded as a computer program and stored on a computer. After her death, the computer calls Casey every morning. He now must address his grief while reconciling the reality of Lise's physical death and her continued existence in the memory of the computer.
The stories comprising Burning Chrome are generally praised for their craftsmanship and subtle portrayals of characters caught up in fantastic events. Reviewers have commended Gibson's bleak envisage of the future and of the disturbing role of technology in society and on human interaction. Gibson's portrayal of multinational corporations and their growing role in the world is considered by some commentators as insightful, disconcerting social commentary. Yet some critics regard Gibson's work as superficial, immature, sometimes impenetrable, and only geared toward young, technologically savvy males. Despite these charges, Burning Chrome is a well-regarded collection and Gibson's short fiction is perceived as an integral aspect of his oeuvre. Moreover, Gibson is viewed as a vital voice in the science fiction field.
Burning Chrome [with Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, and Michael Swanwick] 1986
Neuromancer (novel) 1984
Count Zero (novel) 1986
Mona Lisa Overdrive (novel) 1988
The Difference Engine [with Bruce Sterling] (novel) 1991
Virtual Light (novel) 1993
*Johnny Mnemonic (screenplay) 1995
Idoru (novel) 1996
All Tomorrow's Parties (novel) 1999
*Based on Gibson's short story of the same title
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SOURCE: Glazer, Miriyam. “‘What is Within Now Seen Without’: Romanticism, Neuromanticism, and the Death of the Imagination in William Gibson's Fictive World.” Journal of Popular Culture 23, no. 3 (winter 1989): 155–64.
[In the following essay, Glazer traces recent developments in science fiction and places Gibson within the context of the science fiction genre.]
If the chaos of the nineties reflects a radical shift in paradigms of visual literacy, the final shift away from the Lascaux/Gutenberg tradition of a pre-holographic society, what should we expect from this newer technology, with [its] promise of discrete encoding and subsequent reconstruction of the full range of sensory perception?
—William Gibson, “Fragments of a Hologram Rose,” Burning Chrome
Author of the acclaimed, award-winning novel Neuromancer, as well as of Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive and the short stories collected in Burning Chrome, William Gibson has been greeted as a vital new voice on the science fiction scence.1 Gibson has been heralded as a postmodern “New Wave” Romanticist,2 and a leader of the “Cyberpunk” movement—a coterie of writers steeped in the conventions of the science fiction genre, but departing in essential respects from that genre's familiar fascination with...
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SOURCE: Suvin, Darko. “On Gibson and Cyberpunk SF.” Foundation, no. 46 (autumn 1989): 40–51.
[In the following essay, Suvin discusses the category of cyberpunk, considering Gibson's short fiction as representative of the subgenre. This is a revamped version by Suvin in 1991 of the above cited essay.]
To the memory of Raymond Williams
0. PRELIMINARY REFLECTIONS
More so than for other literary genres, a commentator of current SF has to cope with its very spotty accessibility. It is well known that new books in what the market very loosely calls SF come and go quickly, and are apt to be taken off the bookstore shelves in weeks if not days. Even in the case of those recognized names whose titles get reprinted, the reprinting is as a rule patchy, both selective and shortlived, governed by long-ago contracts and bureaucratic middlemen in publishing and distribution whose reasoning may be accessible to some ESP godhead but not to earthly logic. At the moment, for example, in North America there are 2 (TWO) SF titles by Samuel Delany in print (the moment is Summer and Fall 1988 and I have researched this with the help of McGill University Bookstore for a course). How is a critic or historian to cope with that?
One way, favoured by fans, used to be building up a huge personal library. Even in the days before ca. 1970, when a strict definition of the...
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SOURCE: Yule, Jeffrey. “The Marginalised Short Stories of William Gibson: ‘Hinterlands’ and ‘The Winter Market.’” Foundation, no. 58 (summer 1993): 76–84.
[In the following essay, Yule addresses the critical reaction to Gibson's short fiction and emphasizes the maturity and originality of Gibson's stories, focusing on two representative tales, “Hinterlands” and “The Winter Market.”]
Critics discussing William Gibson's fiction generally focus on his novels—Neuromancer (1984), Count Zero (1986), and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1987)—and devote only brief mentions or book reviews to the material in his 1986 collection Burning Chrome. Even when the short stories are discussed, they are treated either as insignificant exercises that led up to the novels or as works that have no existence independent of them.1 Even Gregory Feeley—the author of one of the collection's more substantial reviews—gives little attention to the legitimate literary substance of the collection. Instead he focuses on the “immaturity of the attitudes” (p. 97) that lies beneath all of Gibson's fiction. In fact, despite the marked similarities between several of his short stories and novels, Gibson's short fiction clearly indicates his authorial range and depth. By carefully examining several important stories, I hope to show that Gibson's short fiction is neither...
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SOURCE: Booker, M. Keith. “Technology, History, and the Postmodern Imagination: The Cyberpunk Fiction of William Gibson.” Arizona Quarterly 50, no. 4 (winter 1994): 63–87.
[In the following essay, Booker outlines the defining characteristics of Gibson's fiction, emphasizing his attitude toward and treatment of technology.]
The disneyland theme park, as Jean Baudrillard has noted, is in many ways the ultimate postmodern phenomenon, the ultimate example of the kind of simulated environment with which we deal in less obvious ways every day. Its younger but bigger brother, Disneyworld, is even more perfectly postmodern, especially with addition of the technological and cultural marvels of Epcot Center. One of the most striking aspects of Epcot Center is its “World Showcase,” an array of pavilions from various nations, which—arranged in a circle around a manmade lake—allow one to take a simulated tour of the world without actually traveling at all. At first glance this compressed world community might appear to be the epitome of Mikhail Bakhtin's notion of heteroglossia, but it is also worth wondering whether Epcot Center—which Andrew Ross has called “the most fully administered of corporate futurist environments” (138)—does not in fact represent a denial of heteroglossia. Among other things, the prepackaged world tour offered to visitors of Epcot might be seen as a sort of Baedeker...
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SOURCE: Montesano, Anthony P. “Johnny Mnemonic: Keanu Reeves Goes Cyberpunk in William Gibson's Bleak Future.” Cinefantastique 26, no. 2 (February 1995): 14–15.
[In the following essay, Montesano traces the cinematic adaptation of Gibson's short story “Johnny Mnemonic.”]
In the future world of writer William Gibson, nuclear annihilation, alien invasion, and sword-and-sorcery space operas are not preoccupying factors.
Information and its dissemination are. Information is power and those who control it, he argues in his cyberpunk stories, control the world. Governments are rendered obsolete as multinational corporations, who trade on bio-engineering and valuable bytes of information control entire economies.
Despite Gibson's meteoric success in the science fiction publishing world in the mid '80s, Hollywood didn't seem quite sure what to do with him. As early as 1987, producer Edward R. Pressman (Phantom of the Paradise) announced he was developing Gibson's story “New Rose Hotel” for the screen. But, while “Hotel” is still caught, seven years later, in development hell—three screenplays (two by Gibson himself) and two directors (Kathryn Bigelow and Abel Ferrara)—another Gibson story, “Johnny Mnemonic” will be the first to reach the big screen, early next year.
Gibson—who came to fame in the science fiction realm when...
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SOURCE: Bredehoft, Thomas A. “The Gibson Continuum: Cyberspace and Gibson's Mervyn Kihn Stories.” Science-Fiction Studies 22, no. 2 (July 1995): 252–63.
[In the following essay, Bredehoft explores Gibson's vision of cyberspace in the stories “The Gernsback Continuum” and “Hippie Hat Brain Parasite.”]
I was going to use a quote from an old Velvet Underground song—“Watch out for worlds behind you” (from “Sunday Morning”)—as an epigraph for Neuromancer.
(William Gibson, quoted in McCaffery 265)
In a 1986 interview with Larry McCaffery, William Gibson recalled the conflict between his expectations and his first impressions of his own computer:
It wasn't until I could finally afford a computer of my own that I found out there's a drive mechanism inside—this little thing that spins around. I'd been expecting an exotic crystalline thing, a cyberspace deck or something, and what I got was a little piece of a Victorian engine that made noises like a scratchy old record player.
The connection between computers and the Victorian period which Gibson mentions here is literalized in the Gibson-Sterling collaboration, The Difference Engine, but the image of a modern device concealing Victorian...
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SOURCE: Hicks, Heather J. “‘Whatever It Is That She's Since Become’: Writing Bodies of Text and Bodies of Women in James Tiptree, Jr.'s ‘The Girl Who Was Plugged In’ and William Gibson's ‘The Winter Market.’” Contemporary Literature 37, no. 1 (spring 1996): 62–93.
[In the following essay, Hicks analyzes the role of women's bodies and disembodiment in Gibson's “The Winter Market” and James Tiptree, Jr.'s “The Girl Who Was Plugged In.”]
Over the summer of my third year of graduate school, I entered that vast and growing inland sea of the American economy known as “the temp pool.” Abruptly dislodged from the hazy sphere of literature which I usually inhabit, I was assigned the role of administrative assistant to a group of upper-level executives at the Research Triangle division of a multinational corporation that produced digital telecommunications equipment. My workstation was in a posh area of the sprawling complex, where I spent most of my time shuttling between the desks of computer programmers and their managers. Although I initially saw little of the complex beyond the perimeter of these neighboring cubicles, I assumed that the rest of the facility was a kaleidoscoped image of my own territory—a redundant swirl of expensive suits, moussed hair, and nervous ambition. At lunchtime I would venture beyond this island of potted plants and rich earth-tone fabrics, making my...
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SOURCE: Lindberg, Kathryne V. “Prosthetic Mnemonics and Prophylactic Politics: William Gibson Among the Subjectivity Mechanisms.” Boundary 2 23, no. 2 (summer 1996): 47–83.
[In the following essay, Lindberg discusses Gibson as a postmodern author and examines the roles of authority, time, and memory in his writing.]
According to Andrew Ross,
Cyberpunk's idea of a counterpolitics—youthful male heroes with working-class chips on their shoulders and postmodern biochips in their brains—seems to have little to do with the burgeoning power of the great social movements of our day: feminism, ecology, peace, sexual liberation, and civil rights. Curiously enough, there is virtually no trace of these social movements in this genre's “credible” dark future, despite the claim by Sterling that cyberpunk futures are “recognizably and painstakingly drawn from the modern condition.”1
What's all this hysteria about cyborgs and cyberpunks, anyway? Without turning down the volume on the siren song of cybernetic subjectivity, I will jack into the spectrum of white noise generated by increasingly urgent questions from an unlikely chorus of aging hipsters and neo-New Left academics who want cyberpunks to do politics—prophylactically—for them: What's wrong with (identity) politics out there on the information super-highway? How...
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Maddox, Tom. “Cobra, She Said: An Interim Report on the Fiction of William Gibson.” Fantasy Review 9, no. 4 (April 1986): 46–48.
Surveys defining characteristics of Gibson's fiction.
Rirdan, Danny. “The Works of William Gibson.” Foundation, no. 43 (summer 1988): 36–46.
Offers perspective on Gibson's work, asserting “Gibson's world is a visualization of what is already here.”
Stockton, Sharon. “‘The Self Regained’: Cyberpunk's Retreat to the Imperium.” Contemporary Literature 36, no. 4 (winter 1995): 588–612.
Discusses notions of identity and self within the cyberpunk genre.
Additional coverage of Gibson's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 12; Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 2; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 126, 133; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 52, 90; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 39, 63; Contemporary Novelists; Contemporary Popular Writers; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 251; DISCovering Authors Modules: Popular Fiction and Genre Authors; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Literature Resource Center; Major...
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